For me, Luc Besson’s 1997 sci-fi marvel The Fith Element was always Star Wars for the intellectuals. I was never a fan of the George Lucas future pantomimes, so it was a welcome change to have someone like Luc Besson come in and rip up the rule book. Besson always had the courage to take the future into places Hollywood was too afraid to explore: love, consciousness, utopia and cutting edge CGI. Most people would assume that Valerian and a Thousand Cities, based on the best selling graphic novel, is the follow-up. Besson would deny this, but all the elements are there – models cast far into future space?
In all honesty, I feel most people have come to expect just too much of such a genius. It’s hard to live up to the lofty expectations of the movies that the French director has created – Léon, The Fifth Element, Lucy, The Big Blue… these are arguably some of the greatest films of all time. They are otherworldly, bizarre at times, hedonistic and intelligent. But in the last few decades, something seems to have happened to Besson’s storytelling powers. Maybe he has become a victim of Hollywood’s demands and excess, or maybe he has started to believe his own hype and adulation.
This seems to be the formula of his latest colourful, circus style film Valerian and a Thousand Cities. A film which pulls together an Instagram audience alone of almost 100 million followers. It’s as if the casting agent said, “let’s just get the world’s most beautiful and important influencers (Cara Delevigne and Rihanna), without any acting experience, and just throw them in the deep end. Oh and then let’s throw in a world famous jazz impresario (Herbie Hancock) and South Korean super star Kris Wu from boy band EXO for good measure.” Strange? Well, Besson loves the abnormal and this certainly doesn’t stop him from making a good movie, but this time it feels a little forced. The script seems so stale and the acting by DeHaan and Delevigne, perhaps through no fault of their own, seems disingenuous and cold. The film centres around the celestial inhabitants of Mül, whose planet has been destroyed by the wicked humans. It’s up to Cara Delevigne and Dane DeHaan to run, jump, kick and hide their way through the universe and help ultimately *spoiler alert* upend the evil plans of general Clive Owen, along the way meeting a host of incredibly bizarre looking space creatures.Ultimately all films made by Luc Besson seems to have a deep fascination and continued exploration of consciousness, the future of space and pushing the boundaries of creativity and technology and a sense of universal virtue, this film is no different, the thinking man’s sci fi, but he side steps the usual Besson oeuvre to mainly focus on nifty tricks mainly incredible CGI scenes and hefty post production values.
This is record breaking stuff, the largest budget for any French film in history at close to €200 million, with over 2000 visual effects shot. It’s not a travesty by any means – it’s bold and entertaining and at times insightful, but just doesn’t go far enough by Besson’s standard. There is always Lucy 2…
Valerian And A Thousand Cities opens in the UK on August 2nd.
Written by Ari Stein editor of 52 Insights